We’ve taken a leap into a new time frame: Post Exile. Haggai was a contemporary with Ezra and Nehemiah. Watch the Bible Project overview for a refresher.
The Exile was a clearly laid out discipline. It wasn’t a random occurrence in Israel’s history. The LORD make this clear through His prophets. Now, it seemed, the Israelites had returned, having learned nothing. Instead of sending another foreign oppressor to put them in another time-out, the LORD withholds the rain–a call back to Deuteronomy 28–reestablishing with this generation: obedience results in blessing, while disobedience results in curses.
The intended purpose of the Israelite’s wasn’t just to do whatever they wanted and build their own personal empires., it was to show their neighbors what it meant to know the LORD. He was central to their identity, as established through the Torah. Jerusalem without a temple to the LORD is not truly Jerusalem.
When the people put their hands to build their temple, the result wasn’t what they were expecting (as famously chronicled in Ezra 3: the young men shouting for joy and the old men weeping, because it was nothing compared to the old). Thankfully, Haggai encourages them with this word from the LORD:
“I am with you. The promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!” (2:4-5)
Even though they weren’t able to build a temple as glorious as Solomon’s, the point is the LORD will be there with them. That’s what’s actually important. The size and majesty of the temple isn’t indicative of Him. He wasn’t as big as the last one and He isn’t as small as the new one.
Furthermore, the LORD reminds the people how important the state of their hearts is. The kind of fruit the LORD speaks to us about producing is the kind which must originate from clean hands and pure hearts. “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”?
The applications I find, today, are a call to realign my heart to the LORD’s. Whatever I am “building” will reflect the state of my heart. Will He be glorified in the work of my hands? Also, the with-ness of the LORD isn’t demonstrated in grandiose structures. It is made obvious in fruit. For Israel, this was also literal fruit on trees. Realigning their hearts to know and obey the LORD would result in their trees bearing a harvest.
The LORD is always thorough. It’s not just what we’re doing, it’s why and how. He’s going to be serious about this as long as it’s people’s job to represent Him to others.